Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Plausible Business Model for Colonizing Space?

 A Plausible Business Model for Colonizing Space?

         Today's preview of The Black Desert Primer features an organization that was first mentioned with our Conestoga PDF.  The Destiny Foundation, as you'll see below, offers a legitimate way to get normal people into space.  Take a look:

        Despite having gone bankrupt in the years before the Great War, The Destiny Foundation is still one of the more influential organizations in the Inner System. The brainchild of one of humanity's most daring and eccentric philanthropists Walter Hopkins, the Destiny Foundation defined the early twenty-second century with its ambitious business plan and even more ambitious building projects.
         Like many commercial space companies of that era, The Destiny Foundation was created by a billionaire who earned his fortune specifically to get into the space industry. The goal of Hopkins was not only to make settling on other planets possible, but profitable and in the financial reach of average middle-class Americans. In order to accomplish this, the Destiny Foundation developed their unique business plan that take advantage of the Mass/Commodity Principle of Economics.
       The Mass/Commodity Principle, simply put, is a way for space colonists and investors in the space industry to take advantage of the then enormous costs of transporting people and matériel into Low Earth Orbit. By the 2070s, the cost at launch had dropped to around $2000/kg. While far lower than at any time before, all but the most expensive of items cost less to make than they did to launch. Under these conditions, a kilogram of state-of-the-art electronics is no more expensive in space than a kilogram of air. For this reason, it was more economically feasible to send robots, which were expensive but lightweight, into space than people, which consumed many times their mass in air, water and food.
The reverse of the Mass/Commodity Principle is that a kilogram of platinum, worth millions on Earth, is practically worthless compared to a kilogram of life support essentials in space. By exploiting this disparity between the cost of rare earth elements in space and their value on Earth, space development could theoretically be made practical.
       Like most speculative mining operations of the era, the Destiny Foundation, allowed investors to purchase, for a quarter of a million dollars, a mining robot. The robot was sent into space and put to work mining Rare Earth Elements and Helium-3. A share of the profits of these materials on Earth, in proportion to the number of robots owned by an individual and minus a small commission, was paid to the investor. What made Hopkins' proposal different was that the Foundation allowed families of regular investors, who would most likely have to liquidate all of their assets in order to invest, to live at the Foundation Headquarters and receive training in The Foundation's space program. During the two-year training period that followed, The families' robots could earn enough from their efforts to pay for the training, housing, and a trip into space for the families as settlers. By this method, ordinary Americans could afford to send themselves and their children to the frontiers of Mars or the newly created asteroid cyclers.
       In the end, the Mass/Commodity Principle was flawed and the Mining bubble burst, impoverishing millions of investors and settlers alike. Dispite this legacy of Hopkins' vision is very much a part of life in space today. Most if not all settlements in The Black Desert include at least one or two modules developed by the Foundation, and many of those who live off Terra can trace their ancestry to the pioneers who took a chance on the Destiny Foundation and reached for the stars.

* * *
       Of course, this business plan may make space colonization possible, but it doesn't make it likely.  That leap would require enough reasonably successful people to want to leave behind everything, including their entire planet, and risk their lives in the most hostile environment humans have ever tried to live in.

       ...I dunno.  I'd do it.  Maybe.


  1. Dream Pod 9 had an interesting one when they were doing the future history for their Jovian Chronicles setting (23rd century hard sci-fi, but with giant battle robots); solar power arrays. Basically, the US and other spacefaring powers (presumably Europe, Russia, India and China) sought to solve the energy crisis on Earth by building huge orbiting platforms covered in photovoltaic solar panels that sent the power they generated down to receiving stations on the planet's surface by means of a microwave laser. Eventually, they realized that the SPS arrays would need crews to repair and maintain them (and also construct the second generation SPSs, which required resources from the Moon), and space settlement began to explode once skyhooks (based on orbital elevator designs) were built and employed, and conditions on the planet deteriorated enough that whole communities pooled their resources to buy a patch of land on an O'Neill-type colony cylinder somewhere. Combine that with the commercial interests after resources on Mercury, various asteroids, Titan and throughout the Jupiter system (as well as the terraforming of Venus), and pow. A colonized solar system.

  2. Dream Pod 9 makes great source material. Even if you don't play in the setting (or don't play at all) their products are worth the price just for research.

  3. Yeah, DP9's sourcebooks are fantastic. The future history was what got me into Jovian Chronicles in the first place.

    In my own setting, the rationale for colonization varied with each settlement. With the Moon, you didn't start seeing actual colonies forming until the cost per kilogram to get into orbit got below $2K, making space tourism beyond LEO feasible for the very wealthy (I mean, who wouldn't want to have their picture taken near the Apollo 11 landing site?). Aside from tourism, the Moon's other industry (mining) really only required small bases to control and maintain the mining drones; once the Earth Federation came along and established their deep space military HQ in Mare Tranquility, the Moon became a strategically important location.

    As for Mars, the manned landings were planned from the outset to establish bases on the planet from which the terraforming project would be controlled. The reasoning for this was because climate change on Earth was making agriculture difficult due to extreme weather and drought, and the hope was that they could learn how to make one planet habitable so that when the time came they could restore Earth to its former habitability while still producing enough food to feed everyone. The terraforming project worked beyond anyone's most wildly optimistic predictions; Mars had a breathable atmosphere mere decades after the project began.

    As for Ceres and the other asteroid colonies, the fact that they had Mars as an available abort point encouraged startup mining companies to establish outposts all throughout the Belt. Many of them got rich off of the mineral and volatile wealth available there (in fact, Ceres became a major exporter of water, with the terraforming project on Mars being a major client), driving many of these prospectors to stay more permanently in order to make more money before retirement.

    As for the Jupiter system, it all started with a research outpost being established on Europa in order to study the ecosystem in the frozen-over ocean covering much of the moon. Another startup company was established to begin gas mining Jupiter for its volatiles (putting their base of operations on Ganymede), a trading company built an outpost on Callisto and you fairly quickly had a booming collection of company towns.

    Then, the situation on Earth imploded. With the exception of Japan, every country on the planet got so embroiled in the war (Japan's isolationist position was enforced by their prototype Tesla field network, the first of its kind) that they lost their space travel capability beyond LEO. The colonies, forgotten by their parent countries, were essentially left to fend for themselves for a generation before Japan, being quick to capitalize on their space advantage, brought all the surviving colonies together under their flag, mostly through mutually beneficial business arrangements. After a generation of having to make do with what machinery they had (and having developed a custom for treating their life support and other systems with almost religious veneration), the colonies were more than welcoming of Japanese resources and culture. Pressing this advantage further, the Japanese were able to secure alliances with the nearby countries and eventually be the primary founding member of the Earth Federation (this is why most non-terrans speak Japanese as well as English; Japanese became the language of business throughout the solar system during the post-war conflict period).

    So, yeah. That's my explanation for why there are colonies throughout the solar system, why Shintoism and variations thereof are as widespread as they are, as well as why the Japanese essentially own everything in my setting.


Questions, comments, criticisms? All non-Trolls welcome!